Archive for February 2016

Stone Wisdom   2 comments

With camera in coat pocket and a muddy 3-mile walk ahead, I set out to see what a Saturday afternoon in the 40s might have to show. I started to write “teach,” and that may be accurate, but as human instructors discover, to say “I taught them but they didn’t learn it” is problematic at best.

I call this stone wisdom because it is a teaching of the north, of the earth, of winter, of this day which is all these things. It is a day of thaw, which I will take for my divination. Thaw what is frozen, so the lessons may enter, so I can move with what they teach.

One thing I’ve learned in the class of this life is that I really need to pay attention, to bring all I am to the moment. That’s a gift to the teacher, as well as myself, that richly repays any cost.

But “all I am” isn’t always easy. It includes idiosyncrasies, personal associations, weaknesses, quirks and curiosities, a whole range of human flotsam and jetsam. Keep anything away, and I under-represent myself. I come away shortchanged, denied because I have also denied something. Without it the exchange can’t or won’t or just doesn’t resolve into completion. But attend long enough, and the moment begins to sift out all that isn’t needful, until insight is possible. How long I let that go on depends on me.

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4trees

“Growing where you’re planted” can be hard work, depending on where you are. Friends who stand with you can help ease it, make it possible.

 

hubcap

“a world of made is not a world of born” — e e cummings. They feel and behave and interact differently. It can be a peculiar human study how to bring these closer.

 

mudsteps

Everything leaves some kind of track. Not all deserve following. Look both forward and backward.

 

privprop

“Private” only begins when someone else notices.

 

The Flow of things may well take you across lines and boundaries. Watch as you cross them, but follow the Flow. Let its gravity draw you.

The Flow of things may well take you across lines and boundaries. Watch as you cross them, but follow the Flow. Let its energy draw you.

 

threedogpriv

Triads are everywhere, and are never private. Is Cerberus, the 3-headed hound of Hell, lurking about? Not all teachers are easy ones, but all teach.

 

gravestones

Lying around waiting for something to happen? “Practice resurrection,” like Wendell Berry says.

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“Those I Am With …”   Leave a comment

“are my greatest teachers.”

dalailama

Dalai Lama as sage

pema-chod

Pema Chodron as sage

Bear with me here. I’m doing some out-loud thinking again, to solidify it enough that I can see it and assess what’s rattling around in my head. The title quotation comes from a seminar I attended last fall. You may well have heard a version of this yourself. You’ll see I’m still mulling it over, trying to squeeze all the juice from it I can.

OK. Hmm. When something like this grabs me, I start trying it out, trying it on for size. What does my spiritual path do with it? Does it stir me, even — or especially — if I resist it? (I’ve found that’s one good test for the value of my path, too.) Do I want its insight with me over the next meters and miles, minutes — or months? Is there a place for it in my backpack or tool-kit? If so, what? If not, why not? Maybe it’s too much. Or it comes dragging cultural weight that obscures its value to me right now. Or …

If it sounds “off,” if it just doesn’t click with where I’m at, is there an equivalent truth that can reach me, has already reached in terms that work for me? Can I translate truths here, rather than just reject one because I don’t like the particular flavor or color or cut that it comes in? Why has it arrived on my doorstep at all? Has it come to me now, or in this particular form, because I’ve already rejected it at least once?! Will I at least remember to write it down in my journal, so when it knocks me upside the head again, sometime in the future, a review of what I write today will help the lesson sink deeper, enough that next time at least I’m able to act?

Most people can name at least a couple of publicly-acknowledged wise ones like the Dalai Lama or Pema Chödrön (I’m facing Buddhist here — insert your own favorite icon of sageness).

Boar is one of my teachers

Boar is one of my animal teachers

I’m a Druid so also I count the non-human world among my teachers.  That doesn’t mean I have to stay in class, or stick with the same teacher. It means, if I need to, that I can learn and move on. It means — thank the gods! — I have many teachers. It may well mean, if I really need to learn something, that the classwork I don’t finish here may reappear somewhere else, in another class, on another arm of the spiral. But it also means I can call on teachers I adore and who support me to help me with teachers who challenge me, rub me the wrong way — teachers who don’t make it easy, who can even just turn every class with them into a perfect, custom-made hell.

Sometimes it seems I specialize in hell. And if you’ve been around a while, you probably do too. The pesky habit that sabotages you again and again. The job or relationship that’s sunk its teeth into your jugular and just hangs there feeding happily. The spiritual cul-de-sac that’s all circle, no spiral growth, no way out or onward. The emotional desert that dries you crisp and crunchy as fried chicken or diner bacon and leaves your bleached bones as a warning for future travelers. (To paraphrase a Christian scripture too many Christians conveniently forget, though I make my bed in hell, the gods are there, too, with me*. No ending, only stations on the way.)

“Those I am with are my greatest teachers.” Sometimes I need to stay. Sometimes I need to walk (run!) away. How to know the difference is something I also have a teacher for. I just have to ask and do the work. If I do, nothing may happen for a while. But if I don’t, nothing keeps happening a whole lot longer.

A college teacher I deeply respected told me his greatest goal in life: “the avoidance of pain.” I gasped. I got depressed. I laughed. Not all at the same time. Not to his face or in his presence. But in varying sequences. Each response fits. But these three are a bad triad. They’re not enough. If all the growth is in the hassle and I’ve constantly avoided the hassle …

I get that his life may have had reserves of suffering I knew nothing about. I’m not judging, but his path wasn’t — no surprise — a good fit for mine. Now, some three decades later, I have something to say in response to him. He’s passed on to the Shining World to continue his own growth. But I’m checking in with him as an honored ancestor of spirit.

“Lessons are blessings with rocks attached.” (Same talk, a little later.)

steppingstoneHow many times have I dodged the rock — and missed the blessing? Can I dodge but be blessed too? Is the rock the blessing? My Druidry asks me, “How can you learn from the rock?” Rocks can be teachers too. Really?! says my inner imp. Let’s run with that …

Ah, and what can I offer the rock in return? Some stone wisdom coming up in the next post.

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*Psalm 139:8

IMAGES: Dalai Lama; Pema Chodron; wild boarstepping stone;

A Triad for Action   Leave a comment

truthperspBut (the blogger says, debating with what he wrote in the last line of his previous post) our witness is not always enough, though it is much.

So, then, action: but what to do, and how to do it well? A triad for deciding: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Almost always, one of these three stands out very clearly. It’s absolutely necessary. Or the truth of it is (at last) blindingly apparent and I can’t keep hidden any longer. But one or both of the remaining three points of the triad will inevitably catch me. Let’s say the words I have to tell my boss or coworker or partner are necessary. They’re true. But are they kind? OK, not really, not yet. So what can I do to make them (more) so?

meerkats

Meerkats (just read the article!)

In a world short on ethical or moral algorithms or heuristics — I’m showing off here; they’re both simply ways to solve a problem — this triad has earned a place in my toolkit. (Yes, the Ten Commandments have their place as well, but frankly if you don’t already know that lying, stealing and killing are wrong, you’ve really got much larger issues to work on.) And when you’ve got headlines like “Zookeepers caught in love triangle,” you know the universe has a deeply bizarre sense of humor.

Need, logic and heart: another version. Though truth is bigger than logic. Anyone who’s loved another knows this. Love may not always be logical, but it’s deeply true.  (Dogs get this, and cats in their sometimes greater and more temperamental reserve get it too.)

Like all formulations in language, this particular triad has limits. If all of its three points don’t line up, that’s not always a sign not to act. It may in fact be a time to act in the fullest awareness you can muster. Knowing, perhaps, you’re mostly flying blind, but acting anyway, in trust.

An example: in my first serious relationship after high school, I reached a point where, in an all-too-brief moment of clarity, I had to ask myself whether I should go any further. M., the woman I loved, was affectionate and intelligent. We were, as M. liked to point out, “physically compatible.” But she was emotionally manipulative. I asked my inner guide what to do. I even phrased it as a yes or no question about continuing or ending the relationship, expecting I’d get a clearer answer that way, since I can be pretty dense when Spirit tries to reach me.  The reply surprised me (often a clue that the communication is genuine and not something I merely made up under pressure): “You’ll learn a lot.”

Under a heady mix of hormones, fear and curiosity, I went for it. And I learned a lot. But was it true, kind or necessary? I couldn’t accurately answer any of those three till many years afterward. Even asking the questions, though — testing the Triad — can put you in the way of helping to sort out the drama and challenge of everything from health to relationships to job opportunities. It’s a concentrated and dedicated version of “You work with what you get.”

Was it true? Our feelings were true. We felt what we felt. Was it necessary? Truth and necessity lay in the growth the two of us (and assorted friends and roommates who orbited with dismay and amusement our half-private passion-storm) experienced through all our ups and downs.

Well, then: was it kind? We valued each other’s presence. We mattered to each other. M. and I taught each other about selfishness and honesty. There’s ultimately a deep kindness when anyone risks being vulnerable in order to give and grow. Because, I ask myself, what’s the alternative?

Was it really necessary? Well, what things ARE necessary in the grand scheme of the universe? (Answer me that one and you’ve got a full-blown religion or politics or philosophy off the shelf and ready to roll.)

If the universe exists even in part to become aware of itself through all its many beings and forms and possibilities (and I feel deeply that it does), then that one relationship between two twenty-somethings, me inexperienced and in lust-love, M. more experienced and also in lust-love, counted as necessary. True, kind, necessary. Check, check, check. But not a way I could have heard or understood or acted on at the time. “You’ll learn a lot.” That was advice I could use. A good triad opens a door. I choose whether to walk through, or slam it shut.

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IMAGES: tell the truth; meerkats.

Posted 13 February 2016 by adruidway in Druidry, spiritual practice, triad

Tagged with , ,

Tracking the Formless   Leave a comment

rabbit

Rabbit tracks in early morning snow by our garage

All around me, the formless. Everywhere I look, the track of some local thing I mistake for itself only, when it’s also a sign of the Mystery. In the end, it can feel like all is sign, one “it,” then another and another, each ceaselessly signifying the whole, each the center of Mystery, because each points to itself but also beyond and back again.

Everything’s in motion, no final self to stop and reckon with. Not just one thing becoming another, but everything becoming everything else. People age almost before our eyes, and a year that seemed long may turn and whisk itself into the past. Snow, sun, wind, tides — the hands of Spirit always reshaping the world. Already we edge closer to the third decade of the 21st century. Everywhere I see the mark of one thing passing into others, leaving spoor and benediction for those to follow who will.

I stalk Spirit in its many guises. Just when I think I’ve cornered it, something slips past uncommonly like a bird or feathered thing. Its pinions brush my cheeks. But when I meditate, when I remember to let go of catching anything, it comes to nestle in my lap. I feel its breathing stir my hair, and unexpected warmth sends a shiver down my spine. Remember, the voiceless thing says in my ears. Remember. Witness.

Seed Meets Trickle   Leave a comment

“A seed, a seed, at Imbolc a seed!”

“Ah, the seed has long lain there fallow, only at Imbolc do you at last feel it stirring beneath the snows.”

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mlvFranz

Marie-Louise von Franz

“One must start where there is still a flow of energy, even if it is just a thin flow, even if it seems silly” — Mary-Louise von Franz, Animus and Anima in Fairytales (Inner City Books, 2002).

Before and at and around Imbolc, the god Lugh draws me powerfully. Naturally, because time isn’t linear, and the workshop talk I’ve agreed to at Lughnasadh, a six-month conjunction with Imbolc and another fire festival, is now at work (was, before I agreed to it), by the god’s hand, or my own, or — more confusing and interesting — both at once. Snow on the ground, the land still in the grip of the Frost Giants (I like mixing myths, personally, at least by season), and here comes Lugh to prod me into action with his spear. Or if not action, exactly, some kind of attention.

The shape of the talk as it comes to me now in bits and starts will deal among other thiings with the matter of encountering a god, but also of any new course of action, of imagination, of inspiration. These wear different cloaks, but from what I can see, under them they’re the same, or at least siblings, equal parts trust and terror at times. Energy — which is what we are at heart, intelligent energy on the move.

So the seed, the nudge to change, to move, to grow — it comes and roots itself in us. And when the root-strength that cracks sidewalks and shoves boulders aside and generally plays havoc with human ideas of permanence and endurance finally gets to work, things move.

sowerAnd often enough the seed then dies in the ground. What nourishes it? We stomp on it, uncomfortable thing, reminding us that something outside us wants to work its will with us, here, too. Right in the middle of streaming Netflix and election madness and ISIS and the woeful state of things and our own personal misery and joy, the particular flavor and color of crazy that the current year puts on each morning, mourning. Just because.

But let trickle reach seed and GERMINATION! Watch out! Funny, the vegetation god from the House of Bread (which is “Bethlehem” translated, as John Michael Greer obligingly reminds us) puts it this way in a Gospel, which really is supposed to be good news after all. Or as a Bard thinks of it, a song for the queens and kings we could be:

And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them, Listen, a sower went out to sow: And it happened, as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside, and the birds of the air came and devoured it. And some fell on stony ground, where not much earth was; and immediately the seed sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: But when the sun rose, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. And other fell on good ground, and yielded fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some a hundredfold. And he said to them, Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

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We can play a part here in germination. (Says who? Well, I can argue about it, or I can try it out for myself. Which is more fun?) Where is my fertile ground? What god/dess is planting there? Where’s that trickle? Ah, there.

And so it begins. If I’ve learned anything to pass along, it’s the magic when seed and trickle meet. I can’t make seeds, but I can maintain a greenhouse for them. I can’t start the trickle, but I can pay attention when one comes — I’ve got ears to hear — and help it flow or block it. There. To work.

IMAGES: ML von Franz; sower.

 

 

 

 

Jedediah Purdy’s “New Nature”   2 comments

jedediah_purdy

Jedediah Purdy

In “The New Nature” (Boston Review, Jan 11, 2016), author Jedediah Purdy opens provocatively when he asserts that the current age “adds nature to the list of things we can no longer regard as natural.” His essay’s not easy going, but it definitely rewards close reading — and re-reading. Purdy’s ultimate argument is that with the profound impact of our human presence on the planet, “nature is now a political question.”

How he pushes beyond this seeming truism is significant. Those of us alive today “confront the absence of political institutions, movements, or even widely shared sentiments of solidarity and shared challenges that operate on the scale of the problems concerning resource use and distribution we now face.”

ostrichesOf course, the challenges that humans have faced throughout our history frequently outpace our existing institutions, wisdom and capacity to take effective action. That’s one workable definition of “crisis,” after all. And the compulsions and sufferings of a crisis often catalyze the formation of just those institutions, wisdoms and capacities. (They also fail to do this painfully often, as we’ve learned to our cost.)

But Purdy’s contention goes beyond apparent truism or the obvious. Our current ecological predicament takes its shape as part of the third of three “revolutions of denaturalization.” The first of these is the realization that any political order is a human choice. The “divine right of kings” is out; flawed human agency is in. Whatever is “natural” about “the way things are” is what we’ve made and accepted. It decidedly does not inhere in the universe. It is not the will of any deity. (The caliph of Daesh/ISIL has no more claim to legitimacy than a local mayor. Humans put both of them in power. Humans can take them out.)

The second revolution, not surprisingly, concerns economics. Like politics, the “natural order of things” in a given economy is anything but natural. People aren’t destined by some cosmic law to be laborers, leaders, warriors, wealth-bearers, priests, etc. Humans choose how to feed and house themselves, what things have value, and who can gain access to them. Though nowadays we define prosperity in narrow terms, as one of my favorite political writers C. Douglas Lummis points out, “How and when a people prospers depends on what they hope, and prosperity becomes a strictly economic term only when we abandon all hopes but the economic one.”* Hope for more than a paycheck means a life based on more than money.

The third revolution hinges on nature. Purdy notes, “Both politics and the economy remain subject to persistent re-naturalization campaigns, whether from religious fundamentalists in politics or from market fundamentalists in economics. But in both politics and economics, the balance of intellectual forces has shifted to artificiality.” So too is “nature” subject to deification and renaturalization, and here the implications for modern Paganism and Druidry hit home.

Given the modern reflex abhorrence in many “organic” quarters towards anything “artificial,” it may take you a moment, as it did me, to move past such associations and hear what Purdy is actually claiming. To put it another way, keep doing what we’re doing, and we’ll keep getting what we’re getting. No god or demon (or magical elemental, set of “market forces” or cosmos) orders things this way — we do. Gaia, the clear implication is, won’t come to our (or Her) aid.

A religious re-naturalization of nature is therefore insufficient, whether it’s the RDNA (Reformed Druids of North America) gospel of “Nature is good” or Pope Francis’s emphasis on a divinely-ordered world of which we ought to be more compassionate stewards. Insofar as such a renaturalization or resacralization is part of any Druid program or agenda, it’s insufficient and perhaps even an obstacle. Only a political response, Purdy maintains, can begin to be adequate to the challenges of the Anthropocene Epoch– the human era we’re now in.

inwild-thorThus, Purdy points out, “Even wilderness, once the very definition of naturalness, is now a statutory category in U.S. public-lands law.” The Sierra Club still markets this (outdated, in Purdy’s perspective) view as one of its touchstones: “In wilderness is the salvation of the world.” (By way of Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac, paraphrasing Thoreau’s Walden; Thoreau actually wrote preservation.)

We often uncritically hold to a romantic (and Romantic) notion of the natural world as pure or unspoiled, a realm or order which is, at least in a few surviving locations, uncontaminated by human agency. But, Purdy continues, “as a practical matter, ‘nature’ no longer exists independent of human activity. From now on, the world we inhabit will be one that we have helped to make, and in ever-intensifying ways.”

Purdy is not anti-nature by any means, as a cursory reading of his essay might at first suggest. He’s not a foe to demonize or take down on Twitter, if you’re a radical Pagan/environmentalist. But the challenges he depicts are real. As a Druid I need to pay attention when he writes things like this:

To invoke nature’s self-evident meaning for human projects is to engage in a kind of politics that tries, like certain openly religious arguments, to lift itself above politics, to deny its political character while using that denial as a form of persuasion. It is akin in its paradox to partisan mobilization in favor of constitutional originalism, which legitimates solutions to political problems by recourse to extra-political criteria—in the present case, what nature was created to be, or self-evidently is.

Such arguments succeed by enabling their advocates to make the impossible claim that only their opponents’ positions are political, while their own reflect a profound comprehension of the world either as it is or was intended to be.

Is nature (or Nature) “self-evidently” anything? If so, what? Do Druids and Pagans generally have any special insight to share that can respond to views like Purdy’s with any kind of authority or credibility? Can we demonstrate a “profound comprehension of the world” in terms that matter and more importantly will shape policy? For environmentalists (and for Pagans, though Purdy doesn’t name them), “inspiration and epiphany in wild nature became both a shared activity and a marker of identity. They worked to preserve landscapes where these defining experiences were possible.”

Install-DemBut throughout human history, Purdy notes, various and successively changing ideals of nature have underpinned diverse economic and political arrangements that always consistently disenfranchise a designated fraction of humans. Whether slaves, minorities, women, aboriginal peoples, immigrants, certain racial or ethnic groups, someone always gets the short end of the stick from these idealizations of “nature.” To hold the natural world to anything but a democratic politics, Purdy says, is to exclude, to perpetuate injustice, and to oppress.

However, Purdy goes on, if we abandon an idealized nature,

if we embrace not just the Anthropocene condition but also the insight—if we accept that there is no boundary between nature and human action and that nature therefore cannot provide a boundary around contestation—we may have the basis of a democratic future. It will be democratic in the double sense of thoroughly politicizing nature’s future and recognizing the imperative of political equality among the people who will together create that future.

Whether a thoroughly politicized nature can aid us in creating a just future is an experiential question. We’ll prove or disprove it by political action rather than by theologizing about nature. (Yet every time we’ve attempted to discount a religious or theological view, it has returned in surprising force. Should we abandon theology for activism?)

In attempting to outline what a future democratic politics of nature might look like, Purdy offers the Food Movement as a kind of Exhibit A. Though the movement can be reduced to or parodied as privileged (mostly white) humans indulging in artisanal cheeses and wines at prices no one outside the 10% can afford, it marks the beginnings of much more, and

includes a number of elements that might be generalized to help shape the politics of the Anthropocene. First, it recognizes that the aesthetically and culturally significant aspects of environmental politics are not restricted to romantic nature but are also implicated in economic and policy areas long regarded as purely utilitarian. For example, a beautiful landscape worth preserving so that people can encounter it need not be pristine: it could be an agricultural landscape—preserved under easements or helped along by a network of farmers markets and farm-to-table organizations—whose cultural contribution is that people can work on it.

One problem with past policy is a fragmentation that separates and de-couples landscape from economy. The land is not merely a neutral resource. “The most credible food politics would combine an aesthetic attention to landscape with a concern for power and justice in the work of food production … [and] “ask what kinds of landscapes agriculture should make and what kinds of human lives should be possible there, so that the food movement’s interest in landscape and work is not restricted to showpiece enclaves for the wealthy.”

This blog and many of its concerns come under critique when Purdy remarks

It is too easy to say that, in the Anthropocene, we have to get used to change—a bromide that comes most readily to those with some control over the changes they confront—when the real problem is precisely how to build politics that can make the next set of changes more nearly a product of democratic intent than they currently seem destined to be.

addpostI write from a decided position of privilege. So, of course, does Purdy. He and I both belong to that tiny minority on the planet “with some control over the changes they confront.” And if you’re literate and have time to read blogs and access to the technology where they appear, so do you. Though some days it may not feel like it, we have the luxury to question why and imagine how and even manifest what next.

Here on this blog I contemplate and explore a minority practice and belief, and try to make sense of my experience and the historical period I find myself in. To blog at all is to write from time left after making a living. How many of us have that? Besides, if everyone talks, who listens? Blogs ideally create dialog. But often a blogger like me can be guilty of doing more talking and less listening. (It’s ideally a balance rather than a binary opposition.)

Purdy notes in that last excerpt that he spies a definite trend or direction. He hopes “the next set of changes [will be] more nearly a product of democratic intent than they currently seem destined to be.” And he ends with a curious bow that seems to evoke much he has taken pains to empty of force.

Even that thought, however, is a reminder that this is only a fighting chance, part of a fighting future. The politics of the Anthropocene will be either democratic or horrible. That alternative is no guarantee that a democratic Anthropocene would be decorous, pleasant, or admirable, but only that it would be a shared effort to shape our more-than-human future with human hands.

Is there no alternative between democratic or horrible? Isn’t our own era an example of both? And what is that “more-than-human” future he says that we will shape with our own less than godlike human hands?!

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IMAGES: Purdy; ostriches; “in wilderness” quotationinstalling democracy; add new post.

*Lummis, C Douglas. Radical Democracy. Cornell University Press, 1997.

[I happened on Lummis years ago and have been grateful ever since. A professor of cultural studies at Tsuda University in Japan, Lummis, who has spent much of life overseas, ably critiques Western trends and politics from the vantage point of an inside-outsider. Most of his work has been published in Japan, and often in Japanese — and hence he’s not as widely known in the West as he deserves.]

 

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